October 24, 2005


The Neocon Who Isn’t: Francis Fukuyama has all the "right" credentials. So when he opposed the Iraq War and voted for John Kerry, eyebrows were raised. They’re still rising. (Robert S. Boynton, 10.05.05, American Prospect)

On a Saturday in January 2003, as the Iraq War approached, the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment convened a meeting in a nondescript building in Arlington, Virginia, with three dozen of Washington’s top conservative policy intellectuals. Using an information-gathering technique dating back to the Eisenhower administration, the office asked four groups to study the long-term threat the United States faced from international terrorism and to report back to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

One of the groups was led by Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, the international bestseller that led British political philosopher John Gray to dub Fukuyama “[the] court philosopher of global capitalism.” The relationship between Fukuyama and Wolfowitz went back 35 years, to when Fukuyama was a Cornell undergraduate and Wolfowitz, then a Yale political-science professor, was a board member of the Telluride Association, the elite group house where Fukuyama lived. Fukuyama interned for Wolfowitz while a graduate student in the mid-1970s at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and later followed his mentor to the State Department during the first Reagan administration. When Wolfowitz became dean of the SAIS, he recruited Fukuyama from George Mason.

When Fukuyama received the Pentagon’s call, he immersed himself in subjects -- the politics of the Middle East, Islam, terrorism -- he hadn’t thought about since he’d worked with Dennis Ross on the Palestinian autonomy talks that followed the Camp David accords.

Fukuyama had spent much of the previous summer in Europe promoting Our Posthuman Future, his most recent book at the time, and his encounters with editorial boards throughout the continent left an impression on him. “That was the point at which I started to think about the whole issue of American hegemony,” he says. “Until then I had accepted the neoconservative line, which is, ‘OK, we’re hegemons, but we’re benevolent hegemons.’ But when I was in Europe, the reality of what non-Americans thought hit me more forcefully than it had before. Even the editor of the Financial Times, which is a pretty conservative paper, was absolutely livid about the way the Bush administration was dealing with the U.K. and Europe.”

Fukuyama’s team prepared furiously for three months, and, of the presentations made that January day by the four groups, Fukuyama’s was the only one Wolfowitz attended. This was precisely the time when preparations to invade Iraq were in full swing. The news Fukuyama delivered was most likely not what Wolfowitz wanted to hear.

The group’s recommendations -- which have never been mentioned publicly, much less released -- were a photographic negative of the path the Bush administration followed. The United States, the group advised, should avoid overreacting to the events of September 11, and particularly resist military incursions that would “lead to a world in which the U.S. and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern,” as Fukuyama put it in The Washington Post on the first anniversary of the attacks. The group reasoned that although military action was a necessary component of the American response, it should be of secondary concern to a “hearts and minds” campaign directed at the vast majority of the Islamic world that generally admires America.

It was an analysis that departed from the “clash of civilizations” scenarios that Fukuyama’s friend and former teacher Samuel Huntington predicted some years earlier. In contrast, Fukuyama’s group portrayed the conflict between democratic capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism as so lopsided that Huntington’s formulation overstated the strength of America’s foe. “Neither Arab nationalists nor Islamic fundamentalists, or any other alternatives in that part of the world, present a really serious route to modernization,” he told the London Independent in April 2003.

Given this radical inequality, Fukuyama has argued in subsequent writings (which reflect the ideas that appeared in his group’s report) that the United States should avoid inflammatory rhetoric such as the “war on terror.” In contrast, Fukuyama argued that while Islamic terrorists are dangerous, they don’t resemble anything close to the threat once posed by communism or fascism. [...]

The most divisive aspect of Fukuyama’s argument has been his claim that Islamic terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States. It is a theme that he says has been influenced by the French scholars Gilles Kepel (The War for Muslim Minds) and Olivier Roy (The Failure of Political Islam), who argue that political Islam has demonstrated itself to be a failure everywhere it has taken power, and that the Islamic terrorist movement had been largely a failure prior to 9-11. Those attacks, as well as the Iraq War, gave it a new lease on life.

The seeds of these ideas, however, are buried deep in Fukuyama’s own work. In his original 1989 National Interest article, “The End of History?”, he singled out Islam as the only viable theocratic alternative to liberalism and communism, although one he doubted would have “any universal significance.” In the preface to Our Posthuman Future, he dismissed the threat of Islamic radicalism as “a desperate rearguard action that will in time be overwhelmed by the broader tide of modernization.”

Critics have faulted Fukuyama for clinging to his end-of-history thesis, accusing him of systematically underestimating events that challenged it, whether it was Yugoslav nationalism in the ’90s or Islamic radicalism today. “Fukuyama’s an optimist, which blinds him to a lot,” says Paul Berman, the author of Liberalism and Terror. (Reviewing “The End of History” in The New York Review of Books, Alan Ryan dubbed Fukuyama “the conservative’s Dr. Pangloss.” “If what we’ve got is what History with a capital H intends for us,” he wrote, “then we, too, live in the best of all possible worlds.”.

Krauthammer argues that it’s Fukuyama’s secular sensibility that blinds him to the appeal of radical Islam. “It has 1 billion potential adherents, which means that [Osama] bin Laden’s ideology has the potential to appeal to infinitely more people than the Aryan ideas of Nazism ever did,” he told me. “Frank has a stake in denying the obvious nature of the threat, but the fact is that history returned after 9-11 … . There are people running around trying to acquire anthrax with which to wipe out an entire city. If that doesn’t qualify as an existential threat, I don’t know what does.”

Fukuyama replies that these are the kinds of sentiments America should resist. “For the U.S. to treat every Muslim as a potential suicide bomber is precisely what fanatics like bin Laden want,” he says. “Iraq before the U.S. invasion was certainly not an existential threat. It posed an existential threat to Kuwait, Iran, and Israel, but it had no means of threatening the continuity of our regime. Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups aspire to be existential threats to American civilization but do not currently have anything like the capacity to actualize their vision. They are extremely dangerous totalitarians, but post threats primarily to regimes in the Middle East.”

Korb agrees. “The bombing in London was terrible, but it wasn’t like the Blitz,” he says. “Terrorists can make life unpleasant, but bin Laden isn’t going to end up running Great Britain, while Hitler very well might have.”

The difference between Fukuyama and his critics is as much philosophical as empirical. Whereas Krauthammer and Berman emphasize Islamic terrorism’s potential for imminent violence, Fukuyama takes the long view, reasoning that political Islam won’t win the larger ideological war regardless of how much damage it inflicts.

It is, of course, precisely the secular sensibbility of neoconservatism generally that has sent Mr. Krauthammer spinning out of control on the Miers nomination and that makes it rather unlikely that neocons will remain in the Republican Party for any considerable period of time. However, it is Mr. Fukuyama who is right about the appeal of and the threat presented by Islamicism, neither of which is terribly great. The most amusing aspect of the whoile dustup though is that while the intellectual class argues amonst itself about such minutiae, the President has gone about happily using the pretext of Islamicism to break apart the ossified dictatorships of the Islamic world and get them all--almost without exception--moving down the path of democratic reform.

It's interesting that Mr. Fukuyama quite consciously modeled himself after George Kennan, even down to signing his original End of History piece with the pseudonym, X. Over time, Kennan became disenchanted with the results of folk embracing his theory of containment because they opted for an overactive type of containment--fighting wars and propping up rotten regimes and so forth every time a communist bulge appeared in the encirclement. He understood that communism couldn't possibly succeed in the long term and wanted to just passively wait it out. By the time we'd made a hash of Vietnam and were being governed by craven souls like Nixon, Kissinger, Ford and Carter it looked like we might just settle down to exactly that original plan. But along came Ronald Reagan, who found the Cold War intolerable, and by the time he was finished knocking over the china even the Soviet apparatchiks knew it was over.

Mr. Fukuyama partakes of Kennan's wisdom--we could indeed just wait out Islamicism and authoritarianism in the Islamic world--but he got stuck with his own personal Reagan right at jump street. George W. Bush seized 9-11 as a way of avoiding another 50 year war and an excuse for hastening the inevitable End. He's bulling his way through the Middle East: toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by force and in Palestine and Lebanon by rhetorical force; undermining regimes like Syria's; and radically altering behavior and the pace of reform in places like Libya, Pakistan, etc.. In effect, given the opportunity to replay the Cold War, Mr. Fukuyama would, but George Bush decided not to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2005 3:04 PM

Fukayama is a smart thinker who might be batting .750, but that still leaves 25% incorrect.

His "end of History", which I actually believed at the time of publication, simply did not allow in any way for the rise of Islamic fascism, and made the somewhat socialist error (as I did) that human beings really WOULD choose the logical choice (that which is fucntionally effective), in this case freedom, over a virtually proven non-workable fantasy (totalitarianism) at any time. He (and I) did not allow for the surprising number of even free people out there who will march for tyranny, forthrightly and without fail, now, and probably ten, twenty, and a hundred years from now.

Fukayama also did not account for WMD being in the hands of such people, and how the very concept of MAD, which not only kept the Soviet Union in check, but forced them to keep anyone within their domain in check as well (as it did with us also), is completely irrelevant to people who straighforwardly claim (beleivably) that they "worship death", and could care less if it is brought to them in their quest to slay infidels in as large numbers as is (in)humanly possible for them to do.

Kennen did not have these factors to deal with, while Fukayama does, but chooses to ignore them. The President did not and does not have that option.

Posted by: Andrew X at October 24, 2005 3:42 PM


It allowed for the rise of other challenges to liberal democracy, but quite accuratel predicted that they were doomed to fail. You can't effectively organize a healthy society around fascism of the Islamic variety either.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 3:47 PM

So what if political Islam has been "a failure everywhere it has taken power"? The point is to prevent it from taking power in the first place.

Posted by: Steve at October 24, 2005 3:53 PM

The Hegelian point of the End of History is that the great debate over how to best provide material benefits to people is over -- democratic capitalism wins. Bin Laden, who argues that the caliphate is necessary to restore Islam to its late glory, is not arguing that it will make the people richer.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 24, 2005 3:55 PM


Yes, that's a moral point, not a geopolitical one. A secular would hardly be expected to agree.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 4:00 PM


Yes, but it can't provide the material wants.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 4:10 PM

Hegel would hardly agree that Orrin's "Third Way" represents the end of history.

Posted by: Pepys at October 24, 2005 4:38 PM

It's a mistake to think that freedom wins just by being superior. If the totalitarians are actively trying to promote their ends while freedom lovers are passive, then the totalitarians can still win.

Fukuyama is too influenced by European intellectuals, not enough by Kurds and Shia yearning to breathe free.

Posted by: pj at October 24, 2005 4:59 PM


It's only one of the Ends. Any number of ways will suffice within liberal democracy. The Third Way certainly isn't even the best Way.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 5:01 PM


No, they can't. No one will stay totalitarian for long.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 5:11 PM

But there is nothing in the national interest of the U.S. to be reactive instead of proactive to the threat of fundamentalist Islam, even as impossible as their final goals may be. Making a lot of European intellectuals happy because we're willing to allow a few thousand people to be slaughtered every decade or so because we've let our guard down may play well theorhetically, but as much as the left may carp about our invasion of Iraq, woe to the first president who ends up in a situation similar to Sept. 11 because they've decided a reactive posture is the best course for the nation.

Posted by: John at October 24, 2005 5:41 PM


Yes, that's the religious/moral argument, not the geopolitical one.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 5:52 PM

(Sigh) I guess I'll never be nuianced enough to publish The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs...

Posted by: John at October 24, 2005 5:56 PM

OJ -

The "doomed to fail" part I can buy. Wether it's failure will be celebrated over the smoking remnants of one or more American cities, or the bodies of a few dozen million victims of the God-knows-what flu is another question.

I'm not seeing where Fukayama covered that question, and history may be "continuing" in either those events or the quest to forstall them that we are living through today.

Posted by: Andrew X at October 24, 2005 6:07 PM


No one fears a state launching a nuke at us and the two that might try are teetering communist remnants .

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 6:13 PM

It's not the launching, but the selling and trading of them that has one of them ending up in a shipping container being unloaded at the Port of Tacoma.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 24, 2005 7:20 PM

oj - A John Kerry presidency would have provided an interesting test of that hypothesis.

Posted by: pj at October 24, 2005 8:30 PM


Why? Who would have descended into totalitarianism but for W since January?

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 8:48 PM


Yes, that's not about a state either.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 8:51 PM

But it's still state actors who would be building them with no ability to control them even within their own borders. Or building them with the intention of spreading them around because it's seen as an easy way to raise funds, and based on the assumption that their little handiworks are unlikely to find their way home again. Which is why we need to make it clear that sloppy inventory control will be no defense when it comes time to retaliate.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 24, 2005 9:29 PM

So we aren't at the end of history because some failed states have inventory control problems?

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2005 9:34 PM

Fukuyama looks at the big picture, and from his perpective 3,000, or even 30,000 American dead on the way to the second half of the 21st. century is a minor factor. That's not a perspective we expect an American President to adopt.

We want to see a 10:1 or even 100:1 kill ratio in our favor against the people who kill Americans or support such actions, and if they claim to 'worship death' we want to put that to a very thorough test before we start believing them. That is what we elect an American President for.

Posted by: ZF at October 24, 2005 10:09 PM

oj - Since January, nobody - it's unlikely he would have lost even Iraq in only eight months. But give Kerry 4 years, his inactivity might have been able to achieve something.

Posted by: pj at October 24, 2005 10:18 PM

We want to see a 10:1 or even 100:1 kill ratio in our favor against the people who kill Americans...

During the Pacific campaign in WW II, we achieved a 30:1 kill ratio against the Japanese in combat, and of course our bombing campaigns against Japanese cities were one-sided, since they couldn't reach ours.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2005 1:22 AM

[P]olitical Islam has demonstrated itself to be a failure everywhere it has taken power, and that the Islamic terrorist movement had been largely a failure prior to 9-11.

It's difficult to see how helpful a distinction between Islam and "political Islam" really is, since Islam qua Islam demands rather radical political actions as acts of piety; but in any case the idea that Islam has been a "failure everywhere" is risible unless we deliberately restrict our view to the last century or so.

Posted by: Paul Cella at October 25, 2005 8:24 AM

Yes, only post-colonial Islamic states are failures. They're just in an adjustment period.

Posted by: oj at October 25, 2005 8:28 AM

Okay, that I can agree with. What after the "adjustment," though? The only thing worse that a failed Islamic state might be a successful one.

Posted by: Paul Cella at October 25, 2005 8:40 AM

Sure, if you're anti-Islamic.

Posted by: oj at October 25, 2005 8:47 AM

Define "anti-Islamic."

Posted by: Paul Cella at October 25, 2005 8:55 AM

Opposed to Islam.

Posted by: oj at October 25, 2005 9:03 AM

That won't do. Opposition is not enough to warrant such a label. Most Jews are opposed to Christianity (and vice versa), for the very natural reason that they think it's false, yet only a few are actually anti-Christian. To collapse this distinction is to make dialogue all the more difficult.

Posted by: Paul Cella at October 25, 2005 9:19 AM

how long did it take carter to lose iran, nicaragua, etc ?

Posted by: anon at October 27, 2005 7:17 PM